Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spanish Cajuns

Did you know...that the town of New Iberia, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country, was founded by Spanish settlers from Malaga, Spain?  Spanish descendants in Louisiana are also known as Cajuns, even though they may not have descended from Acadian settlers.  Most of their names have been changed to French sounding names through the years. Some of my direct ancestors made the long and arduous trip from Malaga to New Iberia in 1778-79.

The following excerpt was taken from: “Historia de Alhaurín de la Torre en la Edad Moderna, 1489-1812”, by José Manuel de Molina Bautista. Alhaurín de la Torre, Published in November 2005. ISBN 84-609-7905-9) and can be found at:

"At the present time, surnames attributed to the Malagueños, such as Segura, Romero, Viator (a modification of the Spanish name Villatoro) and Gary (a modification of the Spanish name Garrido) can still be found in Louisiana. Still more important is the persistence of the descendants of Malagueños who honor their Spanish heritage, in a territory where the French Acadian descendants are a majority and who mainly promote France and the French culture as a sign of identity of the regional ancestry.

In this part of Louisiana the descendants of the French and the Spanish are called “cajuns", a word that is commonly used to signify anyone from the region of South Louisiana, regardless of whether they are of French Acadian heritage or not. Although, in New Iberia, the families with Spanish surnames still proudly refer to their ancestors as “Malagueños”. As Stanley LeBlanc, who has Malagueños ancestors in his genealogy, told us: "I’ve been trying to educate my readers about the fact that the Spanish in Louisiana are all Cajuns, but they never were Acadians”.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Does your word count and target audience match your manuscript?

Target audience and Word count:
Here’s a typical run down of manuscript lengths for different formats, taken from Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes:

Picture book, including ABC titles. The hottest items are under 500 words. Some picture books can go up to 2000 words, but those are iffy. The audience for picture books can be anything from birth to about 10 years old. Usually the break down is something like 1-3 years old, 2-4, 4-8 or 6-10, though it varies from publisher to publisher.

The best advice for a picture book manuscript is “cut it in half.” Yes, it’s hard in 500 words to have a beginning, middle, end, a satisfying narrative arc, and a character that kids want to spend time with. Welcome to the difficult world of picture books.
ABC books, especially Sleeping Bear Press ABC titles, sometimes will go longer. But essentially the ABC format is just a way to organize information. These are not true ABC books for preschoolers.

Beginning reader and early chapter books. These are aimed at the beginning reader, so ages 4-8. For the truly beginning reader, the text may just be a couple words on each page. This is the only place where a publisher will try to control vocabulary, choosing words with regular spelling or from the sight vocabulary lists. By second grade, though, kids are reading short chapter books, and there’s more leeway in vocabulary and complexity of texts. These run maybe 6000-12,000 words, again depending on a publisher’s inclination and publishing program. Usually these are contemporary stories, grounded in a child’s real world.

Short chapter books. Some people add this category for 3-4th graders. These are short novels (novelettes?) of about 12,000-20,000 words. The topic of these books changes slightly to allow for historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy, or mysteries.

Middle grade novels. For grades 5-8, or about 10-14 years old, the middle grade audience has a wide variety of interests that are reflected in their fiction. Novels for this group run 30-80,000 words, but tend to fall more in the 40-60,000 range. Only the rare Harry Potter will go to 100,000 or more.

YA/Teen novels. For ages 12 and up, the YA or Teen novel has an almost free rein in length, complexity and subject matter. Still even here, the average novel might run 60,000 or so. You can go longer or shorter, if there’s a good reason for it. Some have said that YA novels are just like adult novels, just 100 pages shorter and without the sex scene. Today, you can add both the 100 pages and the sex scene. What distinguishes this literature is the tone of the story, particular the tone of rebellion of some sort. It’s a time of life when kids must break with their parents and figure out life for themselves; that’s what is reflected in the literature they embrace.

When I start to critique a manuscript and the cover letter states that the manuscript breaks the length/audience conventions, I start to worry. Of course, break any rule you want–as long as you do it well. But this is a major red flag in the concept and execution of a story. Have you matched up the audience and format?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Article by Diane Moore about New Iberia, Louisiana Landmark: Shadows on the Teche

Patricia Wiles and SCBWI-MidSouth Build a Library

I’d like to give a shout out to Patricia Wiles, Assistant Regional Advisor Chair, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

She organized a “book giveaway basket” at a recent SCBWI conference in Nashville. Her quest was to build a small library for a special school, Alternative Day Treatment, in her county. This school is for students who are unable to function in a traditional classroom setting. In other words, it's an alternative to expulsion.

Patricia toured the school this spring as part of a leadership training class she was involved in. In her words:

It was a gut-wrenching experience. The counselor led us down a hall to a door with a sign, printed on computer paper, taped to it: "Our Library." Inside the room, there were a few old encyclopedia volumes from the 60s and 70s. A few old old old textbooks. A small portable cart with adult nonfiction and romance titles from the 60s and 70s. There were NO BOOKS for teen readers.

On October 6, Patricia delivered 400 books donated by the SCBWI conference attendees and friends to Alternate Day Treatment. Patricia stated in her follow-up email:

…I can't even begin to describe the joy I saw in the faces of the faculty. Itmeant so much to them. Their jobs are challenging, made more so because they are on the bottom of the list when it comes to funding for anything.

The kids SWARMED the boxes! They picked up books and asked me about them. Some asked me if there were books by specific authors, which authors signed their books, or if there were books in particular genres. One saw books by a certain author in the stack and spoke of how he'd read several in the series, and did we have any more of his books?”

The story gets better:

…The principal made the comment that they were going to have to figure out how to get more bookshelves. They didn't have enough to hold all the books. Well, the city was preparing for a surplus auction (set for tomorrow) and so I called the mayor's assistant ... the mayor said the school could have any of the bookshelves in the auction that they wanted. Sweet!...

And that is how one dedicated person built a library…with a little help from her friends. Thanks Patricia!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cajun Accordion

Did  you know?...the diatonic accordion, also known as the "Cajun" accordion, was adopted as Louisiana's official musical instrument in 1990.  It is the basic instrument for traditional Cajun music.

My dad played one of those, while singing Jole Blanc, a Louisiana Cajun French classic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

French Language in Louisiana

A clip from the "author's notes" in my middle grade novel, Nikki Landry and the Legend of Ghost Dog Island, a historical novel about a young girl growing up in the Louisiana bayous in 1956:

In 1921, the State of Louisiana’s new constitution included outlawing the speaking of French in the public schools. By the 1960’s the language had almost died out. In 1961, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded, putting French-language curricula in the public schools. Today, many Cajuns still speak the language of their ancestors. In the rural southwestern Louisiana parishes, nearly one third still speak French on a daily basis.1

1Bruce, Clint & Gipson, Jennifer. Cajun French, Dictionary and Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books, Inc. NY, 2002.